John Scales, ex Liverpool and Spurs defender, urges Government to give football’s entire ecosystem a Fair Game

To hear John Scales is like listening to an eloquent politician, but the Harrogate-born former England defender believes it is time those elected to that job stepped up for football.

John Scales of Tottenham Hotspur back in 1998, is now lobbying Government to protect the whole of the football ecosystem (Picture: Allsport UK /Allsport)

This week MP Tracey Crouch is set to deliver her report from the Government’s fan-led review of football – “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” argues Scales.

“With Bury and Macclesfield, with the feeling among the fans epitomised by the European Super League, the pandemic and the trouble clubs find themselves in, this is a chance for the game to look at itself really well.

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“An independent regulator is needed and I say that with a heavy heart. We’ve got a Government that has the ability to implement the changes required and in Tracey Crouch someone with great cross-party goodwill – people hold her in high esteem and understand she will have considered it very carefully.”

Stan Collymore of Aston Villa holds off John Scales of Tottenham Hotspur during the FA Carling Premiership match at Villa Park in 1998 (Picture: Ross Kinnaird /Allsport)

The former Leeds United trainee is no revolutionary or reactionary. He won the FA Cup at Wimbledon and benefited from the birth of the Premier League with multi-million-pound moves to Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur before helping phoenix club AFC Wimbledon in retirement.

From there he joined Fair Game – a group of 31 clubs including Doncaster Rovers lobbying for “a sport where every fan can put their shirt on in the morning proud in what it stands for, safe in the knowledge that the traditions and heritage of their club will always be there.”

“When I was playing I was pretty much detached from these issues,” admits Scales. “But I’ve been involved in the commercial side and a bit of the political side with the PFA, I’ve done TV, worked with the English Schools FA, and with brands developing initiatives to get kids active. It’s led me to feel all of us who love the game have an interest in trying to make it better, constantly challenging it.

“I’ve been in and around AFC Wimbledon since it reformed. One of the first calls Niall Couper, chief executive of Fair Game and its architect, made was to me. I felt it was absolutely necessary clubs with a similar agenda come together so the voice is amplified.

John Scales later in his career playing for Ipswich Town (Picture: Phil Cole /Allsport)

“The game should never stand still, it should always challenge itself. Is the distribution of money right? Are parachute payments in the pyramid’s wider interests? In my view they’re not.

“The wider interests of the game are skewed towards the privileged few. The whole ecosystem should be nurtured with diligence and respect. Some clubs play Russian roulette with community assets.

“My hometown club Harrogate Town having to dig up their (artificial) pitch after promotion without a transitional period, Bury and Macclesfield – how is that allowed to happen?

“Clubs and their foundations do so much good and give disproportionate amount of money to good causes. I hope in 10 years we can say the clubs that ran sustainable programmes and really understood their communities made it a win-win.

“Tracey Crouch has spoken to such a wide audience I would be amazed if she doesn’t suggest changes for the benefit of the game in its entirety.”

One area Crouch is likely to look at is how fans can be more involved in decision-making.

“My view is clubs should run themselves and be accountable to fans, but fans should leave running the club to an elected board with them represented,” argues Scales. “You don’t want the tail wagging the dog.”

But he is not deluding himself.

“The report is almost the easy bit – the implementation is crucial, how it’s enforced, and how a regulator is set up because you can have a good or a bad regulator,” he points out. “If it’s toothless you’ve just added another layer of bureaucracy.

“We’re great at reports and white papers, it’s the implementation that has fallen short. This needs to be done swiftly. Everybody’s fear is it will just be words and not action.”

Scales and Fair Game will be watching to see that it is not.